Manga Review: Dream Fossil by Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon (1963-2010) was an acclaimed anime director, making a handful of movies (including Paprika) and one television series, Paranoia Agent. His themes of confusion of dreams and reality, and madness lying just below the surface of society, made his works fascinating. He also spent some time as a manga creator, creating several stories in the 1980s before going into anime full time as an assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira). This volume collects his short works.
The lead story is “Carve.” After a war polluted the old places of habitation, most of humanity moved to “The City”, a haven of high technology. However, when a minority of humans started developing psychic powers, they were kicked out of The City, and scrape by in the now less toxic old cities. Sculptor Kei and his female friend/model Ann notice that Specials are starting to disappear from their neighborhood. Are The City people up to something?
The fifteen stories cover a range of genres. There’s a couple of baseball stories, some slice of life, a samurai thriller, and some more speculative fiction. The characters tend towards the realistic, even if the circumstances are often bizarre.
One standout is “Kidnappers”, about a car thief who discovers that he has a small child in the back seat. He wants to get the kid back to the parents, but doesn’t want to go to jail for swiping the vehicle–and the actual kidnapper is after him too. The main character is well drawn as a bad person, but one that doesn’t want to be that bad.
There’s also “Waira”, the samurai thriller I mentioned. A feudal warlord has been betrayed by his vassal/brother-in-law, his troops massacred, and now he and a handful of surviving followers are fleeing through a mountain forest in the middle of the night. The brother-in-law and his troops pursue, but their guides warn them that the mountain is haunted by a murderous creature named “Waira.” Who will survive? The nature of Waira comes as a bit of a surprise–it’s so out of place that it might as well be supernatural.
I can really spot the Otomo influence in several of these stories. The art and writing are decent, but Kon doesn’t sparkle here the way he does in his animation work. A couple of the stories are photocopied from magazine appearances as the original art is lost; this affects the print quality.
The last story in the volume is Kon’s debut work, a two-parter titled “Toriko” (prisoner). It’s very YA dystopia. Yuichi, a teenager, lives in a future society ruled by implacable robot police, and in which you must have your identity card ready at all times for any transactions or even just walking down the street at the wrong time. When he and his friends break curfew, they are remanded to The Center for “rehab” to become “productive citizens.” Good thing Yuichi managed to snag a weapon! Downer ending, depending on your point of view.
In addition to a few color pages, there’s also an interview with Susumu Hirawara, a composer who worked with Satoshi Kon on musical scores for the anime projects. (One last film, Dreaming Machine, is being slowly finished.)
The intended audience varies, a couple would be suitable for young readers, but overall this anthology seems to be seinen (young men’s.) Several of the stories have lethal violence, there’s some nudity, underaged drinking and smoking, and one story has an attempted rape.
Fans of Satoshi Kon’s other work will want to own this anthology; others will be better served by checking it out via library loan.